Big Head Todd remains a rock-music classic | AspenTimes.com
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Big Head Todd remains a rock-music classic

Stewart Oksenhorn
Back in the day: Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd and the Monsters at the 1994 H.O.R.D.E. festival. Aspen Times photo/Stewart Oksenhorn.
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I remember when Big Head Todd and the Monsters, a product of Columbine High School in the Denver ‘burbs, made their debut in their big hometown venue of Red Rocks Amphitheatre. It was 1994 and the band was still riding high on the monstrous success of its 1993 album, “Sister Sweetly,” but promoters must have been worried about Big Head Todd’s drawing power, and booked two acts – Los Lobos and the Dave Matthews Band – to open the show.They needn’t have worried. Red Rocks was mobbed and Big Head Todd and the Monsters were treated like the local heroes they were. When the band launched into their hits like the raw “Broken Hearted Savior” or the calmly seductive “It’s Alright,” it was like being in the midst of Beatlemania. With the first notes of each hit song, packs of teenage girls would gather in the aisles for group hugs and shrieks. Not a teenage girl, I employed a less visible means of expressing my satisfaction. But impressed I was by the threesome, who seemed able to turn on a dime from gritty blues-rock to catchy pop hooks to thrashing power trio stuff.In terms of popularity, that night may have been the height of the band’s career. They still play Red Rocks each summer and major festivals all over the states, and are often found in theaters and larger clubs – a solid career, but they have not generated the kind of loyalty on the level of Phish or Widespread Panic, contemporaries from the days of the H.O.R.D.E. tour, or even fellow Coloradans String Cheese Incident. It should be interesting to see what kind of excitement is generated by their gig on Saturday, Nov. 27, a free show in downtown Aspen presented as part of the Aspen Skiing Company’s Hi-Fi Concert Series.

On the music side of things, BHT&M – singer-guitarist Todd Park Mohr, bassist Rob Squires and drummer Brian Nevin – rank as one of the most consistently powerful rock bands of the era. They haven’t returned to the million-plus sales level of “Sister Sweetly,” but probably through no fault of the music. One album after another – “Strategem,” “Beautiful World,” “Riviera” – showed that the band didn’t have to stray from its classic-rock roots to continue making smart, muscular music. The albums were not as consistently catchy as “Sister Sweetly,” but songs like “In the Morning,” from “Strategem,” and “Resignation Superman,” from “Beautiful World,” found their way to radio.Earlier this year, the Monsters struck again with “Crimes of Passion,” which might be their finest moment yet. Songs like “Dirty Juice” and “Love Transmission” aren’t about to catch the teenybopper set the way the simpler “Bittersweet” did, but older folks wondering where guitar bands along the lines of Led Zeppelin are should warm to “Crimes of Passion.” The even more recent “Live at the Fillmore,” recorded in San Francisco in March, is solid but doesn’t add a whole lot to their previous output.While we await word on whether the old Double Diamond space is truly to be resurrected – all signs look good, and more on that next week in this space – a respectable calendar of events at other venues is shaping up. Just in case our hopes are squashed.

The big early-season news is at Snowmass Village’s Blue Door, of all places. Colorado’s Motet, which has ripped up the room before with its jazz-funk jams, returns on Friday, Dec. 3. Even bigger news is that Camper van Beethoven, the thrashing, humorous rockers from Virginia, are playing the Blue Door on Dec. 15. The band, in its original lineup, recently returned from the great beyond with the release of the excellent “New Roman Times,” which places current worldly concerns in an alternative universe. Other touring acts set for the Blue Door include Austin, Texas, groove band Collect All Five (Dec. 10), and New York roots-jam band the Zen Tricksters (Feb. 4).Snowmass gets more big-name action when singer-songwriter John Prine plays the Snowmass Conference Center Dec. 9. Indiana singer-songwriter Jason Wilber opens.In Aspen, the Wheeler Opera House holds down the musical fort until the Double D space hopefully reopens, hopefully in late January. Rickie Lee Jones, who made an unexpected return to songwriting with last year’s political diatribe “The Evening of My Best Day,” performs on Dec. 28. The following night, Canadian singer-songwriter-guitar ace Bruce Cockburn reprises last year’s Christmas-time appearance at the Wheeler.

After those back-to-back, solo acoustic gigs, billed together as An Acoustic Christmas, the house gets rocking. Hot Tuna, the long-running roots rock act headed by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady, plays an acoustic/electric show on Jan. 7. Young blues rocker Jonny Lang comes in for a pair of shows, Jan. 24-25, and though the shows are acoustic, the boisterous Lang will be backed by a full band. Bring earplugs, just in case.Assuming the Wheeler is still standing, jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux, earning acclaim – and comparisons to Billie Holiday – for her new album, “Careless Love,” makes her Aspen debut Feb. 3. Later in the season come singer-songwriter Marc Cohn (Feb. 24); the early-era Beatles act “1964-The Tribute” (March 12-13); Malian singer-guitarist Habib Koité and his band Bamada (March 15); the Beyond Bluegrass Festival of Acoustic Music (March 16-19), featuring eclectic upstate New York band Donna the Buffalo and Canadian band Vishten, with more acts and specific dates to be announced; and bluesman Taj Mahal (March 28).The Skico’s free concert series continues with New York singer-songwriter Ari Hest performing at the base of Aspen Mountain on Dec. 18. The series also presents one concert a month through April, with acts to be announced.In addition to a steady diet of local acts, Club Chelsea has ska-punk band Warsaw (Dec. 12), Collect All Five (Dec. 19) and northern California rock-hop band Pyrx (Jan. 4).

Down yonder in the valley, Steve’s Guitars has up-and-coming Colorado band Hit & Run Bluegrass on Saturday, Dec. 3. Next door, the Black Nugget brings in Little Hercules, an Eagle County funk-rock band that is establishing a national reputation, on Dec. 10.And from the looks of things, there’s plenty more to come.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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